Vick faces major challenge in proving innocence - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

By Alan Abrahamson

Vick faces major challenge in proving innocence

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That imagery of Michael Vick walking Thursday afternoon into the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va., a federal marshal trailing him in the frame, the soundtrack all boos?

That's the Vick perp walk.

And, in the minds of many around the nation and beyond, that's going to be the defining image of Vick as his case proceeds towards the Nov. 26 trial date.

And that's going to be a major, major challenge for Vick to try to overcome -- perhaps the major challenge as he vies not only to stay a free man but to play football again and retain the good name that once made him a major endorsement star.

This is, in some ways, going to be every bit the media circus that was the O.J. Simpson case in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s and the Kobe Bryant sexual assault matter in Colorado four years ago. But -- and this is a difference that cannot be emphasized enough -- this is federal court, not state court.

The proceedings inside that Richmond courthouse will not -- repeat, not -- be televised. Not now and not ever. There are no cameras in the federal courts. All we will see, maybe, because it's far from certain the judge will allow even this, are the infamous "artists' representations" of the goings-on.

So what does that leave the TV stations, with 24/7 news demands, to air when referring to the case?

The Vick perp walk.

Of course, Vick entered a not guilty plea on Thursday. He and three others are accused of dogfighting-related charges; convictions could carry up to six years in federal prison.

Vick's attorney, Billy Martin, standing outside the courthouse after the arraignment, stressed that the case against Vick contains "mere allegations," adding, "We intend to prove Mike's innocence at trial."

Vick and the others are formally innocent until proven guilty. But Martin understands all too well the challenge, practically speaking, Vick has to assert his innocence. The indictment is too detailed, too specific, the number of cooperating witnesses so significant -- four -- that the government has done all it can at this preliminary stage to assert the strength of its case.

That's because the government, plain and simple, means business. It is trying to send a message three different ways:

One, dogfighting is not tolerable in a civilized society.

Two, if the government is willing to bring a case against a celebrity the likes of Vick, it can go after you, too -- if you're stupid enough to be involved in something as heinous as dogfighting. The U.S. Justice Department is quite deliberate in picking high-profile cases that are message senders. Evidence? The BALCO matter and steroids.

Three, the federal government clearly believes that state and local authorities haven't done enough to police and prosecute dogfighting.

Martin also said, "We look forward to the opportunity to being able to walk inside this courtroom and saying to the world, 'Mike Vick is innocent.'"

If only anyone can hear.

And then the next question: will anyone listen?

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